If there was a prize for the person who most influences our lives without almost anyone knowing him, Bjarne Stroustrup would be a good candidate. Not only Stroustrup is anonymous to the public, also its great creation – the C ++ programming language – is unknown outside of computer science. But it is everywhere: "The best approach is to say that today everyone has used it and many people use it all the time, and you never see it," says Stroustrup.
The programmer was born in Aarhus (Denmark) 68 years ago. After graduation, he moved to the United Kingdom and the United States, where he has spent his professional career. The Carlos III University of Madrid has just granted him the Honoris cause.
Question. From what surrounds us, what has been written in C ++?
Answer. Your phone is recording this. Its signal processing is C ++. A good number of your apps are C ++. If you came here by car, some of your controls – fuel injection, steering, brakes – could be in C ++. If today you have watched TV, there will be something there too: the cameras, the communication systems probably carry C ++. Much software that your phone uses to talk to the tower is probably C ++. GPS has some C ++. It's like housework: you only see if it's not well done.
P. When it started, it did not look like it was being a great IT guy. I was not a brilliant student.
R. He was a correct student. I needed some luck, but it's more likely to say that the more I worked, the more luck I had.
P. Today we think of 15 year olds when talking about geniuses of programming …
R. I never saw a computer until I was 18 or 19 years old.
P. When I finished my studies, I did not want to be a teacher. I saw it as a trap.
"I've seen a lot of bright, working-class kids with no role models who ended up in the only job they knew for smart people with education: school teachers"
R. I've seen a lot of bright, working-class kids with no role models who ended up in the only job they knew for smart, educated people: school or high school teachers. When I was 17 or 18 I thought it was wrong that a teacher's previous job was a student. There must be something else in his journey. I was terrified to become a teacher. I wanted to build things.
P. "Our civilization depends on software," he said.
R. And that dependency grows. If the software stopped working, we would die of hunger. A city like New York has at most two or three days of food. If the trucks start to malfunction, if the trains stop, if the traffic lights are broken, which are all computerized systems, people would die of hunger. I'm not joking. Agriculture depends on computers. We depend on both software and water.
P. Upon receiving the Draper Prize, He asked that the society know better the importance of the engineers. Artists or scientists are more famous than engineers. Why?
"Science is great, but it does not do anything by itself: someone must then use it to build a device that we can use"
R. When people think of art and science, they often forget about engineering. Science is great, but it does not do anything by itself. Someone must then use science to build a device that we can use. You have to apply science. People think of Einstein and that is fantastic. But do not fall in that it took a long time to create the GPS system that uses your ideas. Each society values it in a different way. If you are an engineer in Germany, you are someone; if you are in the UK, they think you drive trains. It is an exaggeration, but only in part.
P. An engineer's point of view is practical: "There are two types of languages [de programación]: of which everyone complains and which nobody uses, "he said.
R. Thomas Edison said that inventing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, that is, sweating. It means that you can have a good idea, but it takes a lot to turn it into something that people can benefit from. People forget that 99%. You write for example a story to inspire children: it's always about 1%. It's the exciting bit.
P. Another phrase: "The only thing that grows faster than the performance of a computer is human expectation". Knowing how to program would not help to avoid it?
R. Yes and no. It's okay for people to know something about everything: science, history, mathematics, code. But the danger is that people who have done mathematics in high school think it's mathematical. I know what I'm talking about: I have a degree in mathematics, I've met great mathematicians and I do not play in their league. On the other hand, there are a huge number of teenagers, almost always boys, who think they know everything about programming and building systems and nobody should tell them anything. A little knowledge is something dangerous. It makes you think you're an expert when you're not.
P. He learned 20 programming languages before finishing college. He even tells that in the doctor's waiting room he leafed through a manual and then used it a couple of weeks to learn it. Is it still like this?
R. You can not do that anymore. The languages are much more complicated. I would not recommend anyone to learn 20 languages. You start learning one, two or three, you catch them while you advance. It's a bit like natural languages.
P. What would you do today if you started working in a place like the Bell Labs where you created C ++?
R. There is not a place like that. It was a unique place in the history of the world where applied science, applied engineering was done on a huge scale. We built the first communication satellites. Imagine how to talk to something in space.
P. Does not Google have something like that?
"The best approximation [sobre C++] that is to say that today everyone has used it and many people use it all the time. And you never see it "
R. No. It has very interesting things but nothing this wide and with that scale. We had astrophysicists, pure mathematicians. Bell Labs I had a horizon for what I was 10, 20 years and older. I wanted to improve the communication of the world. They defined the problem they wanted to solve so broadly that you could start there, work 40 years and not solve the problem, even if you had made progress.
P. Could I write C ++ now?
R. It was always impossible. He had a good boss who thought he was doing something else and when he saw what he was doing he thought it might work. Instead of telling me to publish it at once, he asked me to keep working because something good could come out. It was unexpected. I had a problem to solve. I used C ++ as a tool. I never managed to solve the problem, but it had this side effect.
P. He owes Denmark enough. But he has lived all his life in the United States. Would it have been different if I had been born there?
R. Probably very different. Denmark is perhaps the most egalitarian society on earth. And one of the most favorable societies for people who want to do things. If you have a dream, Denmark is probably the place to pursue it. They value hard work, education It's free, They do not put barriers in that, they do not tell you what you should do. Today is more complicated but when I was there it was a more egalitarian and simple society. I'm not sure what I would have done in the US with an origin like mine. People believe that they have done everything by themselves. No. You need a system in which to live: your education, your teachers, friends that do not stab you. I do not think I have the skills to live in a society with the law of the jungle. I will not say what there is now, but there are a few.
P. He is 68 years old and continues to work at Morgan Stanley Bank in New York. Is not it removed?
R. I have already retired twice, from AT & T and the University of Texas A & M. To do what I do, I must understand how software is made in real places. So I can see what people program instead of what they are supposed to do according to one theory or another. It is very important for my work in the C ++ language design. To improve it, you have to look at the people who use it instead of the people who write books about how it should be done.
P. From reading his interviews, it seems that he has always done what he wanted.
R. Yes, I think I've done well. What could I do that was just as fun if I retired?